Fella named Dan, who signed off “Can’t-stop-thinkin’-’bout-Southern-fried-chicken” wrote with the following query:
I found myself TDY in Oklahoma City last April for two weeks. Hankering for something homestyle and comforting, I inquired from everyone I talked to about where to find great fried chicken. A couple of Northwest transplants took mercy of my plight and drove me several miles westward to the town of Okarche. The joint is called Eischen’s. There are five things on the menu, three of which I was advised to steer clear of. Absolutely the best fried chicken (Mom’s included) I ever recall cleaning up after.
Which brings me to my current quest. Is there anywhere local that serves up a great family-style fried chicken dinner, in a restaurant setting like they used to out on Highway 99 at Rose’s Diner? I’ve been referred to places such as Pomegranate in Redmond (they don’t do fried chicken until the Summer Menu late June) to non-chain take-out joints in the Central District, even to the Steelhead Diner in the Market. Any recommendations?
Well, that’s a great question, Dan! Isn’t that what “they” always say when “they” (and by they I mean me) don’t have the definitive answer? So I thought I’d throw this one out to the Eatership. Eaters? What say you re: family-style fried chicken? However, in addition to the suggestions Dan’s already gotten — none of which truly describe what he’s in the market for — here’s my two shakes on the subject.
I’ll have both thighs, thanks.
I’d love to direct Dan to West Seattle’s Alki Homestead. But the fate of that historic city landmark, famous for its family-style fried chicken dinners (and still unopened after fire ravaged the building in 2009) remains to be seen. Oh, and you hard-core fans? Why not join the Southwest Seattle Historical Society July 4 at the century-old log structure where you can participate in a mass photo-event meant to show how much “This Place Matters.” (Ditto for its fried chicken.)
Instead, Dan (and ya’ll) might consider heading to Spring Hill in West Seattle for Monday Night Suppers. There, in addition to spaghetti and meatball dinners ($13), and other inexpensive homestyle-eats from award-winning chef Mark Fuller, you can reserve a slot for his Fried Chicken Dinner for Four — though to do that, you need to call by 8 p.m. the previous Friday. Yeah, yeah. I know: $80 sounds like a lot of money for fried chicken, but this isn’t KFC, and dinner includes two whole chickens plus sides: herbed dumplings with Beecher’s flagship cheese, buttered russet potatoes, marinated cucumber salad, caramelized broccoli and jalapeno cornbread. Do the math: that’s just $20 per person for a sit-down dinner.
Of course, you could always go over to one of Ezell’s five Seattle-area locations for take-out, where a 16-piece “dinner” includes six rolls and no sides ($28.75 plus tax). In fact, I highly recommend you do. And be sure to get some extra rolls and some of the “spicy” pieces. And speaking of great fried-chicken take-out, surely you’ve heard me sing the praises of Chicken Valley in Pike Place Market, and Chicky Pub, the Korean-style fried chicken kiosk at Lynnwood’s Korean supermarket Pal-Do World. But as you said, Dan, that’s not exactly what you’re looking for, either.
Chicky Pub’s chicken, available for take-out (or eating in, right next door at Cho Dang Tofu) at Pal-Do World in Lynnwood.
If I had to recommend a single place for Southern-fried chicken, it would have to be the Chalfonte Hotel in Cape May, New Jersey, where I worked after high school, and where my fondest memories involve sitting in the kitchen helping Miss Helen Dickerson and her daughters Dot and Lucille prepare enough fried chicken and fixins’ to feed hundreds of hotel guests (as well as those of us who served them). But since the Jersey Shore is even farther away than Okarche, Oklahoma, may I suggest, instead, a little “light” reading and some armchair traveling?
As American as, well, you know.
Dan, go buy yourself a copy of “Fried Chicken: an American Story,” written by my Southern-fried pal John T. Edge who (no degrees of separation!) has a chapter in his book entitled “Skillet Sisters of the Chalfonte Hotel” — paying homage to the skills of my pals Dot Burton and Lucille Thompson. Miss Helen passed on to the great kitchen in the sky after 77 years of service at the Chalfonte, but among the many recipes for fried chicken in John T.’s “Fried Chicken” is this one, a tweaked version of the Chalfonte specialty:
Onion Fried Shore Chicken (serves four)
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces if less than 3 pounds, 10 pieces if more than 3 pounds
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons lemon pepper (the kind without the salt)
1 cup self-rising flour
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced into 3/4-inch-thick rings
Salt and black pepper for sprinkling
Season chicken with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon lemon pepper. Mix flour, remaining salt and remaining lemon pepper in a heavy paper or plastic bag. Add two pieces of chicken at a time, shake to coat thoroughly and shake again upon removal to loosen excess flour. (Do not discard bag with flour.)
Remove floured chicken to a wax-paper- or parchment-lined pan. Let rest for 10 minutes. Pour oil into a skillet at a depth of 1 1/2-inches. When oil reaches 350-degrees, place half the onion rings in the skillet. After 3 or 4 minutes, when the hiss from the water in the onions quiets, remove the onions and discard. Place remaining onion rings in a bowl of cold water and set aside.
Slide dark meat into oil, skin-side down, followed by white meat. Keep oil between 300-degrees and 325-degrees and cook chicken pieces for 12 minutes per side, or until an internal thermometer registers 170-degrees for dark meat, 160-degrees for white. Drain chicken on a wire rack, blotting with paper towels if necessary. Keep oil in skillet. Remove remaining onion rings from water and toss in the flour-filled bag, shaking to coat thoroughly. Fry onion rings in the same oil until brown, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss atop chicken.
Or, you could just make the simple version of Miss Helen’s recipe, as prepared by Dot and Lucille today, and described in the 1986 spiral-bound Chalfonte cookbook, “I Just Quit Stirrin’ When the Tastin’s Good.” I can tell you from experience: That chicken won’t last long, it tastes almost as good cold as it does hot. And it helps if you’ve got a very big cast-iron skillet, and a strong-armed son-in-law called by his last name (“Burton”) — to toss the Crisco out later, into the big black barrel outside the kitchen’s rickety screen-door.
The late, great Helen Dickerson, who knew her way around a cast-iron skillet.
The homemade version of the Chalfonte’s Fried Chicken (serves four)
Soak: 3 pounds cut-up chicken in salted water (1 tablespoon table salt per quart of water) for one hour. Pat dry.
Mix in bag: 1 cup flour, salt and pepper to taste, 2 tablespoons paprika
Shake: Chicken pieces (2 at a time) in flour mixture, covering well.
Place: 2 cups of Crisco or corn oil in large skillet. Heat to medium-medium high temperature and fry chicken until tender, crisp and brown, approximately 20 minutes. Turn after first 10 minutes. Test for doneness with fork.
Note: Before adding chicken, Dot says, “Throw in thickly sliced onion rings when grease is hot — that’s our secret!”
And seeing as July 4th picnics are just around the corner, anybody else have any fried-chicken recipes they care to share?